SVJI’s Rural Technical Assistance Project brings people, knowledge, and resources together to develop real solutions for rural communities addressing sexual violence. The collaborative approach we take means tools, trainings, and conferences designed for rural spaces and tailored assistance to meet your community’s specific needs. 

Our Rural Realities blog is a space to reflect, connect, and share about the work of coordinated sexual assault responses with others doing similar work across the United States. Please contact Johnanna Ganz ( with any rural related needs or questions.

Please share your thoughts and responses to blog posts via the comment function. Any comments that are deemed inappropriate (e.g. derogatory or inflammatory) will be deleted. 

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  • March 22, 2017 8:54 AM | Anonymous

    AEquitas’ mission is, “to improve the quality of justice in sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, and human trafficking cases by developing, evaluating, and refining prosecution practices that increase victim safety and offender accountability.”

    If you are working to try to answer questions about prosecution or need training/technical assistance, AEquitas is an invaluable resource! I have attended some excellent presentations by AEquitas where they addressed the role of alcohol and prosecution. They provide concrete tips and assistance as well as foundational knowledge to help folks increase positive outcomes.  If you need help regarding any issues with prosecution, they are an outstanding resource.

    If you have other prosecution or alcohol facilitate assault resources, be sure to share them in the comments! 

  • March 15, 2017 7:54 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    There's still time to register for the National Institute for SART Team Leaders hosted by The Sexual Violence Justice Institute @ The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Join us in Bloomington, Minnesota, May 8-10, 2017.Space is limited to 100 participants, but you need to apply soon. To learn more, please view the brochure

    About the National Institute for SART Team Leaders

    With continued partnership and support from the Office on Violence Against Women, SVJI is excited to host the National Institute for Team Leaders taking place over 2 ½ days at the Airport Hilton in Bloomington, Minnesota, near the Mall of America.The Institute is designed for coordinators, team leaders, and state and territorial level leaders who coordinate or support local teams responding to sexual violence.

    The Institute’s primary goal is to build the capacity of team leaders to design and facilitate effective team processes. Effective team leadership is essential to a team’s overall development, and we know that it is complex, challenging, and rewarding work. Creating social change and systems improvement requires more than knowledge of best practices — it also requires the ability to influence multiple systems and agencies toward improved outcomes. The Institute will help you lead multidisciplinary teams as they design, implement, and evaluate their community’s response to sexual violence.

    For more information, view the brochure.

    What is the cost of attending?  

    There is no registration fee. Federal per diem lodging rates are $133.00 for single and double occupancy. You must make and pay for your travel and hotel arrangements AFTER you have received confirmation of registration. You are not registered until you receive a confirmation.

    Register here



    Please contact Johnanna Ganz, Rural Projects Coordinator, SVJI @ MNCASA at or 651.209.9993 x7451.

    This project is supported by Grant No. 2015-TA-AX-K014 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.


  • March 08, 2017 8:31 AM | Anonymous

    One of the major challenges I hear from Sexual Assault Response Teams everywhere, especially if there is a campus environment, is the issue of how alcohol affects the reporting/justice processes. From issues like victim blame, to lack of knowledge about alcohol’s effects, to cultural assumptions about drinking, the SART can be trying to manage a lot while discussing the intersections between sexual violence and alcohol. I certainly don’t have any surefire answers when trying to help teams manage these conversations; it is a complex, loaded topic. While there aren’t any great answers, there are a couple of strategies that seem to be effective in managing the discussions on your teams.

    • Acknowledge the use of alcohol as a tool. Alcohol is often used as a weapon or a tool to increase another person’s vulnerability. Folks can easily get stuck on what a victim might have done, decisions they made before, during, or after the assault, etc... The questions or comments can focus singularly on victim’s actions. Bring it back to the totality of circumstance—the entire context in which the events occurred. Encourage your team to ask questions about what others in the situation were doing and the larger environment. Was the perpetrator handing drinks to the victim? Did the perpetrator know how much the victim had consumed? Did they talk about plans to get someone intoxicated in order to engage in sexual activity? Were people around the victim encouraging them to continue drinking? Did anyone offer to assist the victim in safely leaving? Get your team to be thinking broadly about how alcohol is used by others as a tool of coercion, force, etc. 
    • Rely on curiosity. Instead of responding with shock, anger, or whatever else might immediately come to mind, consider approaching the victim-blaming with curiosity. Engage the person/people with the goal of learning more about why they may hold that opinion. Coming at the situation without judgment, you can leave more space for discussion and exploration of the issues. You also model positive ways to handle difficult conversations. which leaves the door open for people to change their minds.
    • Bring it back to your mission/purpose. If victim blame and alcohol become an issue for your team, consider pushing your team to think about their mission/purpose. Why does your team get together? My guess is it’s to help improve outcomes and experiences for victims. Sometimes, folks dig their heels in when you are pushing them from other angles. So, re-establish your mission and ask how this belief/approach might (or might not) fit in with your team's mission and purpose.
    • Making it personal vs. agency positions. There are times when it is useful to ask the person, “Is this a personal position or are you speaking on behalf of your agency's position?” When working on a SART, it can be easy to forget that you represent an agency or entire discipline. Reminding the team that each of you are there to speak on behalf of the agencies/disciplines, not on their personal beliefs can be a really useful strategy to address victim blame (among other issues!).

    These are just a few strategies for addressing victim-blame when discussing alcohol and sexual violence. If you have thoughts, questions, or other useful strategies, please share them in the comments! 

  • March 01, 2017 8:56 AM | Anonymous

    Maybe it’s the fact that Saint Patrick ’s Day is coming up. Maybe it’s the steadily warming weather of Minnesota that makes me dream of sitting on a porch with some cold drinks on a warm summer day. Maybe it’s because it’s the month of Spring Break for a lot of college students. I’m not sure what it is, but I do know that we have to talk about alcohol facilitated sexual assault and the work of the SART.

    Without further ado, this month’s Weigh In: what is your experience with alcohol in relationship to SART work? What have been your successes or challenges in addressing alcohol facilitated assaults?

    Leave it in the comments!  

  • February 16, 2017 9:43 AM | Anonymous

    Sexual Assault Response Teams have a challenging and important role. That is why the Sexual Violence Justice Institute at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault has made it a priority to provide eLearning resources you and your team can utilize to assess and improve both the criminal justice system and victim experience. Are We Making A Difference? is an interactive do-it-yourself guide to evaluation. It includes a variety of resources to help you make the case for evaluation, learn the basics, gain evaluation skills, and access tools to make the task easier.

    Check out these interactive online learning materials at:


    This project was supported, in part, by grant number A-SMART-2014-MNCASA-00004 awarded by the Office of Justice Programs, Minnesota Department of Public Safety and by grant number 2013-TA-AXK014 and 2007-TA-AX-K011 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, nor the Office of Justice Programs, Minnesota Department of Public Safety.


  • February 08, 2017 9:25 AM | Anonymous

    Building your SART can be a mixture of planning, luck, and unexpected twists. It takes time and effort to (1) get the right team together, (2) build a strong foundation of mutual respect, (3) follow a clear process for making change that becomes institutionalized, (4) have decision maker buy-in, and (5) always base the work on victim/survivor needs. With these components you are quite likely to be an effective team. However, even with this knowledge, I’ve heard many new and veteran teams come back to the eternal question, “Who should be on the team?” There are a couple of critical considerations to weigh into your decisions:

    1. Do they have decision making power or the support of decision makers? Being super ready to take on the issue of sexual violence is awesome! However, you need to make sure this potential member can directly (or have access and support from the person who can) shape organizational policy and procedure. Passion is great but it must be paired with the ability to make change. An intern might be really invested in the topic but does not have a long term or significant say in what the organization does.

    2. Are they a first responder or core community disclosure point? The people who must be represented on your team are those who provide first response to sexual violence cases: advocates, law enforcement, medical, and prosecution. Others who might be really important and involved in the process might be corrections, faith organizations, or culturally specific service providers. It’s necessary to keep your group to these core representatives, especially in the early stages of the team’s development.

    3. Team size depends on your community. Some teams may need many representatives to achieve access to the whole spectrum of sexual violence victim/survivors. Your team may only need a few representatives to coordinate your responses and supports for victim/survivors. The most important take away is that you need the core responders (see #2) to create effective improvements in the systems response; after that, each community will have different needs in terms of those who engage directly with sexual violence and victim survivors.

    When you are working to build your team, keep some of these basics in mind as guidelines. For those who are veterans in SART work, what advice or thoughts do you have regarding team membership? Share in the comments! 

  • February 01, 2017 8:07 AM | Anonymous

    It’s February, which means it is the month of relationships. The month of non-stop talking about relationships—whether they are good or bad or blissful or stupid or necessary or a waste of time or whatever. Thanks, Valentine’s Day. Whatever your feelings on the infamous V-Day, this is a good opportunity to visit the idea of partnerships in your SART. Or as I like to call them, SARTnerships.

    With that, what does partnership—or SARTnership—mean to you? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

    P.S. I hope SARTnership catches on as a thing. Yes, I’m trying to make it thing! 

  • January 25, 2017 11:59 AM | Anonymous

    Last week, I had the privilege to spend time on the island of St. Croix working with the amazing SART that has begun doing the hard work of changing the realities for victim/survivors. (Major shout out and love to the fabulous VIDVSAC staff!) While I learned an incredible number of lessons and conquered my fear of islands and the ocean, one of the lessons that came through most strongly from my time there was on the ways we know and the ways we must listen.

    What does that mean? As always, my dear SART friends, good question. Allow me to explain.

    We here at SVJI spent months preparing for the trip by having numerous calls with Khnuma, the wildly brilliant executive director of DVSAC, by speaking with another TA provider (the talented Ms. Tracy Wright!) who has supported the U.S. Virgin Islands in their work for quite some time, and by speaking with members of the SART. We also prepared by doing a lot of research and reading about the islands, of which we knew only a little. As I embarked upon the trip, I felt like I knew SO MUCH and was really quite ready. I felt like our ways of knowing information were solid. I would only have a little more to learn while on the ground before I was ready to provide good, solid technical assistance. Lesson one:

    There is a vast ocean between what we believe we know and lived experiences.

    From the very moment we landed on St. Croix (a colleague came with because SART work is inherently collaborative, and we must model collaboration in our efforts), we found out that we had to drive on the left side of the road and that our phones had no service on the island. We were not prepared and all our research did not reveal these small, but, important things. These were only the first of many realizations that our ways of knowing were incomplete until we were already living the experience.

    This lesson is true of SART work. We can only know to a degree until we are in the experience. For example, as members of a SART, we may think we know what another person’s job entails, but we don’t really know unless we’ve experienced it. This brings me to the second part of my humbling lessons:

    We must find many ways of deeply listening to those with lived experience.

    It was not enough to listen to the words people spoke while on phone calls. It was not enough to ask questions and receive answers. We are severely limited by what we can imagine to ask. Through observing body language, listening to people speak to one another about their days, listening to information from all of my senses, and accepting the extremes limits of my ways of knowing what SART work on the Virgin Islands might be like, I began to better understand the things I could not imagine to even ask. The more I valued the expertise of those who lived and worked on the islands, the more we were able to share openly with one another. The SARTners (we are using it!) gave me insight that no amount of research could ever have revealed.  Through listening and trusting the expertise in the room, I could tailor my SART expertise to aid and enhance their already outstanding work—what I thought the SART might need, was not really what they actually needed. This meant that I had to edit all of our training plans the day before and during the training. Adapting our plans in the moment was tough, but a critical decision that took what would have been an okay training and turned it into a great training.

    Listening deeply requires a willingness to acknowledge how little we (individually) know and how much we can learn from working in genuinely collaborative ways. Sexual violence response work can only become stronger and more effective when we understand the limits of our ways of knowing about experiences that we do not have, deeply listening to those with lived experience, and truly valuing the expertise of others. This includes SART members, victim/survivors, and our communities.

    All-in-all, it was a challenging, informative, humbling, and inspiring technical assistance experience. I count myself lucky to do this kind of work and meet such amazing people doing great things every day. I hope you feel the same about your work. 

    Finally, here is proof that I tackled my fear of the ocean! 

  • January 18, 2017 7:56 AM | Anonymous

    Everybody has opinions. It’s just a fact of life, right? When thinking about SARTs, everybody has opinions on the things (1) going well (2) going poorly (3) that need to change and (4) whose fault it is. Then, they have opinions on fixing these issues. People can be *pretty* sure that they know all of these things without seeking any further information.  However, one of the most important steps that any SART, whether new or experienced, can take is to take a step back and assess the state of the state around them.

    And you’re thinking, “Wait, Johnanna. What does that even mean?” You’re right in thinking that. So, let’s spend a little time talking about what this means for your SART.

    1. Be open to whatever information comes your way. This means that it is important to prepare your team and yourself for a level of openness and vulnerability. You might hear things you want to hear and things you dislike hearing. If this happens, you are on the right path! It means people are being honest about their reflections. There’s always room for improvement. Be prepared to seek it out!
    2. Determine how to get the best information. There are dozens of ways to get information from others about your processes, successes, and missteps. You can also ask anyone anything. Work with your team to figure out how you will get the highest quality and the most information from your process. When I say high quality, I mean that it is information that you can use to make meaningful changes and adjustments. Just because you want to know if all sexual assault victim/survivors eat green apples does not make it useful or quality information. To help get that high quality information…
    3. Ask key questions to all stakeholders. Make sure you stick with open-ended questions that are not dressed up value judgments or persuasive statements. Stakeholders means the agencies doing the work that SART has asked of them. Stakeholders means community members. Stakeholders means victim/survivors—those that report and those that choose not to report. Stakeholders means anyone connected to and affected by sexual violence within your community and region. (That’s pretty much everyone, by the way.) However, you have to find the voices that will have the closest connection to this work; so, choose your stakeholder pool wisely to get good information.
    4. Reflect on your work and have others reflect on your work. While it is important to check for gaps wherever we can for ourselves, the truth is that it is impossible to accurately grade your own homework without outside information. We don’t know what we don’t know. Having an outside voice is essential to highlighting our blind spots as well as our greatest strengths.
    5. If everything comes back perfectly positive, ask again. Seriously. I’m not kidding around with this. No one and no process is perfect. Figure out what is preventing people from telling you the real deal. Is it the questions you asked? Is it the way you asked them? Is it the person doing the asking? Find out what’s going on.
    6. Be Patient. It takes some time to do this process. Honestly, it’s kind of a pain to do. However, your patience and persistence will make the process so, so, so worthwhile. 

    Once you have gone through the process of assessing the state of the state, you and your team will have a much better idea of how to set goals for the upcoming year/s. This will also help with the opinion problem—if it is a problem for your team. Please remember: NO TEAM ANYWHERE can make truly meaningful changes to their sexual assault response if they do not know what’s actually happening for the community and in the current response. You might have some really good ideas based on what you know now, but everyone needs to be able to see the whole picture, together. J

    What are your thoughts? Have I missed anything? Add to the discussion using the comments! 

  • January 11, 2017 1:20 PM | Anonymous

    Through doing work with SARTs, one of the key things that helps orient the group and keep the work grounded is a mission statement. Sounds cheesy? You betcha. Is it effective? You betcha! Mission statements or clear guiding principles/goals help any group with the work they do, the decisions they need to make, or the outcomes they want to see. Recently, our organization went through the process of updating and revising our mission statement, and the process helped us to grow tremendously and give us a better sense of direction.

    Mission statements or goals should be relatively short and clear. The mission statement tells you all the most essential information that an outside party needs to have a view of what you do and why. Your statement will contain the following information: (1) Who are you? (2) What do you do? (3) Who benefits? Let’s walk through what those mean, even if they seem pretty simple.

    1. Who are you? This is the easiest part of the mission statement. It is the name of your group or agency. If you don’t have a name, now is a fine time to unite under one banner. It should probably describe your service area and include the team type. Let’s just pretend that my SART is named after my cat, CleoCatra. So, the question is answered by the following:

    a. The CleoCatra County SART

    2. What do you do? This might be a little trickier to be able to say in short way, because the truth is that SARTs do a lot of work for their areas. You meet regularly. You build relationships. You challenge your agencies to improve their work. You write and implement protocol. You collect input from service providers and victim/survivors. There are so many things to choose from that it can feel overwhelming. Focus in on the big picture view of your work. Ask yourselves about the end goal you and your team are trying to achieve. Using my example, I might say this:

    a. Increases access to and improves the sexual assault response

    3. Who Benefits? This question is asking for whom are you doing the work. A mission statement will tell people what you are seeking to do and who will be better because of your existence. This helps to justify and clarify the work you do for when people go off track. Knowing the people you aim to serve will help keep your team centered. You will have the power to ask, “For whom do we do this work?” which will help steer people back on course. Keep this part focused on your main population, because many people will probably benefit from your work. So, my example might look like:

    a. Sexual assault victim/survivors in our county

    When we put my example all together, it would read like this:

    The CleoCatra County SART increases access to and improve the sexual assault response for sexual assault victim/survivors in our county.

    Even that has some repeated phrasing. We could shorten it to look like this:

    The CleoCatra County SART increases access to and improves the sexual assault response for victim/survivors.

    This mission statement tells people who we are, what we do, and who benefits as a result. It provides a clear roadmap for our work and will serve as our touch point moving forward.

    Now it’s your turn. Does your team have a mission statement? Do they need one? Do you think mission statements are silly? Leave your thoughts, questions, or stories in the comments! 

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This project is supported by Grant Number 2015-TA-AX-K014 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this content are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women. 

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